Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Chief proposes flat-funded police budget

 

March 19, 2020 | View PDF



Haines Borough police chief Heath Scott submitted a flat-funded budget proposal for a five-officer force for the coming fiscal year. The proposal comes after discussion last month of the need to either increase police funding or reduce enforcement hours.

At a Public Safety Commission meeting March 11, the commission voted unanimously to support his proposal.

Scott said the only substantial increase between the proposal he submitted to borough manager Debra Schnabel and last year’s $611,743 budget was the amount allotted for police academy training for a new hire to bring the force back to five officers. The budget he requested for the coming fiscal year is roughly $628,000, he said.

In February, Scott said the police department lacks funding to provide adequate 24-hour service and presented the Public Safety Commission with several future staffing options: a full-time police force with six officers, the minimum number recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice; a full-time police force with five officers and substantial increases to overtime and standby hours to cover for officers taking time off; and a 16-hour per day police force with four officers.

Scott said after receiving input from community partners, it became clear that a 24/7 agency is necessary.

“(Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium staff) need to be able to pick up the phone and call 911 and expect that someone is going to be there within a moment’s notice if we have a patient who is unruly,” clinic administrator Stephanie Pattison said at the meeting.

At the last commission meeting, member Kelly Williamson, director of Lynn Canal Counseling for Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, said the clinic could not operate as it does without round-the-clock policing. Clinic staff require an officer present to respond to situations like a 2 a.m. suicide call, she said.

“If the police department is to have specific hours of closure… we would have to limit our response with respect to placing responders in harm's way,” fire department chief Al Giddings said. “It is not (fire) department policy to send responders into dangerous encounters with patients under the influence of substances, displaying unpredictable behavior; individuals involved in domestic disturbances or persons who are a harmful threat to our responders. In these instances, the fire department is ordered to stand down until the police department has rendered the scene safe.” The police department also provides assistance with traffic and crowd control, he said.

Scott said while his proposal for a 24/7, five-officer force is largely flat-funded, the department needs flexibility with its budget because it has to account for factors beyond its control that lead to increases in overtime and standby hours like training requirements, the time officers spend in court, and the frequency and location of calls.

“We’re going to try and stay between the lines but if we don’t, my expectation is that we don’t get vilified, thrown under the bus or burned on the torch… we’re going to try really hard to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money,” Scott said to the commission. “My hope is that this committee is an advocate for that. So if we were to ever go over in our payroll budget because we’re seeing a spike in calls at a specific time of year, that there is less friction with the community.”

In 2016 and 2017, the assembly had to amend the police department budget during the fiscal year because the department overspent, but “since that time, we have been fairly accurate with our budgets,” Schnabel said.

This fiscal year will be challenging, Schnabel said, citing uncertainties in state funding. The borough needs to keep its budget tight, she said. Of Scott’s proposal, she said, “We will work in this budget... I’m not going to try to cut it.”

Schnabel said making changes to the police department budget in the future is a possibility and the Public Safety Commission could have a role in making those recommendations. But she said she would like to be given sufficient lead time so she can plan for future changes. She used a three-year lead time for changing the number of officers in the department as an example.

The police department is in the process of hiring an officer to bring the force back to the five officers budgeted for the current fiscal year. Scott said the borough is currently soliciting applications for the position that will be reviewed on March 20.

The Public Safety Commission is currently scheduled to meet again on April 15 at 6:30 p.m.

 
 

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